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Leather Conditioner Recipe


New in Town
As in the title, pasted below including info on leather care and cleaning, written by a traditional country saddler.
Hope some of you may find it useful.

LEATHER CLEANING AND CONDITIONING: I get asked on UK horse forums how to make leather conditioner and care for veg tanned saddlery leather, hope this article helps.Firstly a bit about oiling and veg tanned leather.NEATSFOOT OIL, is a popular choice to condition modern hides BUT although modern neatsfoot oil is still made from cattle-based products, it has a tendency to speed oxidation of the leather. If mineral oil or other petroleum-based material is added, the product may be called "neatsfoot oil compound".Some brands have also been shown to be adulterated with rapeseed oil, soya oil, and other oils.The addition of mineral oils may lead to more rapid decay of non-synthetic stitching or speed breakdown of the leather itself
You won't always see the damage to the fibres of the hide with the naked eyes and think it's ok to use it but you get down to the cellular level and look at the fibres under a microscope of hide oiled with neatsfoot and you'll see what I mean.

CLEANING THE LEATHER:All I use to clean saddlery is warm water with a liquid soap such as the soap you use for washing up. This is for very dirty tack that comes into my workshop though that is needing lots of cleaning and care.Everyday I would just use a very mild solution of the soap and warm water, rinse with cloth with warm water. Let it dry naturally. Keep an eye on the leather, when it starts looking, feeling dry or creaking, add the leather conditioner to get the fat content back up.Saddle soap (glycerine) is to be avoided,it was ok on old hides but it's not that good for modern hides, the Ph levels are wrong for modern hides. I often get saddles and bridles in for repairs that are covered in hard black lumps, it's the build up from the saddle soap, we call these lumps "jockeys" in the trade and they are very hard to remove having to often resort to scraping them off with a knife and risk damaging the surface of the leather. I have heard of people altering the Ph by melting half a bar of saddle soap in milk and using that, whether this works or not I don't know as I have never tried it.

LEATHER CONDITIONER:All veg tanned leather will lose moisture everyday whether it's used or not, best thing to condition leather to make it last is any product without any silicone, spirits, dyes or preservatives (that some modern leather conditioners contain) includes, tallow, bees wax and lanolin or all 3 if possible.I make my own leather conditioner simply because I use so much veg tan in my trade, I have hides that I have hand dressed that are at least 27 years old when I first trained and are as good as new.

HOME MADE LEATHER CONDITIONER:My own recipe is a secret one I have perfected over many years and it's for sale on this site (link removed) it's better than this recipe as this one is a beginners basic one you can make yourself and it will condition your leather reasonably well.You will need to get hold of some beef fat (I make my own fat and tallow but you can use beef dripping bought from supermarket-Waitrose were selling it last time I looked and the name on it is Britannia).You'll need beeswax and some lard (pig fat, again I make my own but you can get it from the supermarket), make sure any product you buy isn't adultered with other ingredients. Try to get it as pure as you can.Do roughly a 50% beef fat, 25 % beeswax and 25% lard,gently melt it down on a low heat and mix it thoroughly.Let it set in an old empty and clean margarine tub, when you use it if it has melted because the weather is warm, shove it in the fridge for 10-20 mins to get the right consistency.This is real old fashioned English Saddler's grease!

BEST WAY OF USING IT:Remember any moisture you add to leather whether water or leather conditioner can darken leather down, so if in doubt try a test area first.When conditioning the clean leather, wipe it with a warm wet cloth (just warm water) and whilst still wet/damp get some conditioner on your fingers, the heat from your hand and your fingers are by far the best way to apply any conditioner, it's a mucky job but forget sponges, cloths or brushes at this stage.By putting the water on first it acts as a medium that aids the penetration of the fats right into the fibres of the hide.The flesh side of the hide is far more porous than the grain side,try to imagine a funnel shape to the fibre with the wide open mouth end as the flesh side (flesh side is the underside where the flesh used to be) so allow a little more conditioner that side, you don't need alot anyway as it goes a long way.Rub it all over and massage it into the hide, then leave it to dry naturally in a dry room and not in any sunlight or near artifcial heat,it can take 3 days or more to dry out and be asorbed into the hide, depends how much you use!When it's dry, then get a lint free cloth, I use old bath towels cut up, the bobbly bits of the towelling act like a polishing stone and this is where it gets hard work, you need a lot of elbow grease.It's basically good old fashioned saddler's grease which most saddlers, leatherworkers and cobblers would have made years ago and none of the commercially made stuff you get today.The idea is to rub the hide fast and fairly hard, not too hard to scratch it, the friction heats up any fats you have left on the hide (the white stuff) and gets it further into the fibres to add to the already absorbed conditioner that you put on it a few days before.Lastly, this where it looks like I am contradicting myself about saying not to use oil on hides but I do, I use cod liver oil (NEVER neatsfoot as explained at the beginning)and wring a cotton cloth out in the cod liver oil so almost dry and put a very LIGHT film on both sides of the hide,wipe off any surplus and give it another gentle polish to buff it up with a bit of clean, dry bath towel, you are merely giving it a final dressing with the cod liver oil NOT conditioning or feeding it, it also gives the hide back it's leathery smell, a good trick of the trade to know if you sell second hand saddlery or leather, people love the smell of leather!When completed you should have hide that is fairly stuffed full of fat and wax which is what it was designed for and it will have a nice bloom/shine to it, it should feel slightly moist/clammy but not sticky, if it is sticky you need to rub it more, it should feel heavier too.The conditioning will act as a rain barrier to keep the wet out.Lastly, for those of you who use a commercially made leather conditioner, do you know what the ingredients are?In the leather conditioner recipe above there are all natural ingredients that will not harm your leather and here is a list of ingredients of a well known commercial brand of leather conditioner, people rave about it but think what these ingredients can do to your leather, your own skin and your horses skin. I have heard of 2 horses with allergic reactions to these ingredients

CERA ALBA (posh name for beeswax)
CI 12700 (this is a RINSE OFF ONLY product!) not advisable to have contact with skin for very long!


A-List Customer
Thanks for the hints.

I'm restoring a chair and used an old leather saddle to reupholster. Thing is, the restoration compounds make it so oily. Maybe I have over done it?

How can I get rid of the oiliness - I was going to use talc, but that would change the colour!

I found jasmine oil leaves a fresh smell and doesn't decay (like nut oils). It might limit any potential mildew as well.